Why people don’t trust lawyers

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Why is it that so many people don’t trust lawyers? Unless they’ve been burned by a lawyer before, or know someone who has, I think it comes down to how we are portrayed in the media, movies, and TV. And let’s not forget all of those lawyer jokes.

And yet I think most people who meet us for the first time are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt. They will assume that we can be trusted, because it’s too difficult to assume that we cannot. They come to us with a problem and they want to believe that they can trust us to help them.

But their trust can evaporate in an instant.

The smallest misstep can trip us up. A little white lie, missing a deadline by a day or two, a bill that comes in for a few dollars more than expected.

For many clients, one screw up, one broken promise, or even one exaggeration is all it takes.

I thought about this over the weekend when I was looking at a book on Amazon. A five-star review said something like, ” . . .although it took some time to read. . .” and then praised the book. But the book was only 26 pages. Seeing that, I knew the review was phony. The author had purchased the review.

That’s cheating. And against Amazon’s terms of service. If the author did that, what else is he dishonest about? Why should I trust his information or advice?

So I didn’t “buy” the book, even though it was free.

One strike and he was out.

Learn how to build trust

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Career day for fourth graders

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Did you attend your child’s third or fourth grade class for career day? Do you remember explaining what a lawyer does and making it as interesting as possible? Tough to do when you’re competing with Joey’s dad who is a professional magician, but you did it.

You explained what you did, who you helped, and why it is important. You helped some future lawyers see that being a lawyer is cool.

If you had to do it again (or for the first time), what would you say?

Think it through and write it down, or record it. This is a valuable exercise, even if you don’t have any kids.

It can help you explain what you do to prospective clients and referral sources. It can also help you create content for your website, articles, and presentations.

You don’t necessarily have to write at a fourth grade level, but keep it simple enough that your ideal clients can follow.

Here are some ideas to prime your mental pump:

  • What kinds of clients do you represent? What kinds of problems do you handle? Give some examples of real clients you have helped.
  • What’s the first thing you do when a new client comes to you? What do you do after that?
  • Do you charge by the hour? Flat fees? Why? How is this better for your clients?
  • Why did you become a lawyer? What do you want to accomplish in your career? Do you have any role models?
  • What’s the best way to find a good lawyer in your field? What questions should someone ask?
  • What’s the hardest part of your job? What’s the worst case or client you have had?
  • What are you most proud of about your work? What do you like best about what you do?
  • How is your practice different from others in your field? What do you do that other lawyers don’t do, or what do you do better?
  • Who would make a good referral for you? If someone knows someone like that, what should they do to refer them?
  • What questions do prospective clients and new clients typically ask you? How do you answer them?

Take one of these and write a few paragraphs. It won’t take you more than a few minutes and you can start using it immediately. And, if you run into a fourth grade class and are asked to speak, you’ll be ready.

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The biggest mistake lawyers make with online marketing

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Last week I referenced an article about “lethal mistakes” lawyers make with their online marketing. I agreed with some of the mistakes, disagreed with some, and was mystified by the absence of others.

I asked what you thought was missing, and by your responses, you showed me that you are paying attention.

Your list of mistakes included things like

  • The absence of fresh content
  • Too much about “the firm” and not enough about the client/visitor and his problems
  •  No call to action (telling visitors what to do)
  • Too impersonal, formal, unapproachable

Correctamundo.

You get it.

Why weren’t these in the article?

I don’t know.

Anyway, before I reveal to you the number one lethal mistake lawyers make with their website, I want to mention another article about lawyers’ websites that provided some alarming, but not surprising, statistics:

According to this article

  • Nearly 40% of small law firms don’t have websites
  • 70% don’t have a call to action on their home page
  • 97% of law firm websites fail to deliver any kind of personalized content
  • Only 35% have been updated in the last three years
  • 68% don’t have an email address on their home page [see my comments below]
  • 27% don’t have a phone number on their home page
  • Only one-third are optimized for mobile devices

The last issue is especially noteworthy in view of Google’s recent announcement about penalizing sites that aren’t mobile friendly.

The article also said that “only 14% of law firms send a triggered email to a visitor who submits a form online”. That number is skewed, I am sure, because most law firm sites don’t even have a form that allows visitors to email them.

Your site needs a contact form, so visitors who aren’t ready to call you can communicate with you by email. Posting your email is good, but using a form is better. It makes it easier for visitors to contact you, and that means more will (and that’s a good thing, yo.). A form can also reduce spam and allow you to direct visitors to supply information you will need when you reply.

That form should send an automated reply so people will immediately know “message received” and what will happen next. Without this, visitors are likely to keep looking.

Okay, now for the biggest mistake.

Your emails to me mentioned it. So you know it’s important. I’m not sure if you realize how important, however.

The biggest mistake is not having a form for visitors to subscribe to your email list or newsletter.

You need a form and you need to tell people to subscribe. Tell them on every page. And give them reasons why they should. Tell them how they will benefit by filling out your form. What will they get, learn, or avoid?

Why is it so important to get people to subscribe? Because most people who visit your website for the first time

(a) aren’t ready to hire you,
(b) aren’t ready to contact you to ask questions or schedule an appointment, and
(c) aren’t likely to return to your website.

First time visitors are gathering information, about the law and procedure and their options, and about lawyers who can help them.

News flash: yours isn’t the only website they visit.

If you don’t capture their name and email on the first visit, and use that to stay in touch with them, the odds are you will never hear from them again.

Which means you’re losing business. A lot more than you may realize.

When visitors subscribe to your email list, you can continue to send them information, remind them about the solutions you offer, and show them why they should choose you instead of any other lawyer. You can continue to sell yourself and your services.

Six days, six weeks, or six months from now, you can continue having that conversation and convert more people into paying clients.

Even if they’re not ready to hire you, even if they never hire you, they can send you referrals and traffic and promote your events and share your content and help you build your email list further.

But none of that will occur if you don’t know who they are.

Without a list, you can’t stay in touch with visitors, earn their trust, seek their feedback, ask for their testimonials, invite them to your seminars, tell them about updates to your site, or do anything else to build a relationship with them.

And that’s why building a list is numero uno.

Your website’s content is critically important. But if that’s all you focus on, you’re asking your site to do too much.

You could take away my blog, my social media accounts, remove any mention of me from search engines, and cancel anything else I do to promote my products and services, and I would survive because I would still have my list.

Building a list is the most important thing a lawyer can do to market their practice, and most lawyers don’t do it.

Learn how to build your list and market your practice online.

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Tazing clients for fun and profit

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Let’s face it, you’re boring. Predictable. Normal. And forgettable. Just like most lawyers.

Yes, people trust you, because they see you as a reliable and stable professional, but that strength, from a marketing standpoint, can also be a weakness.

You don’t want to look and sound like every other lawyer. You want to stand out.

Where’s the flair? The panache? The spark of originality?

Actor and comedian Jonah Hill said, “It’s always better to shock people and change people’s expectations than to give them exactly what they think you can do.”

And he’s right.

That doesn’t mean you should be reckless. Or weird. Just a little different. Maybe not always, but at least once in awhile.

Do something people would never expect you to do. Something small, but significant.

Surprise your clients with a gift. Invite them to your first stand up comedy gig. Write a poem and post it on your website.

Pass out a box of Good N’ Plenty with your business card. Come up with a memorable slogan.

Show your fun side. Be unpredictable. A little shocking.

You want people to notice you and remember you and talk about you, so give them something to talk about.

Of course you want to be known more for your legal talents than your whimsy. But before you can dazzle anyone with your brilliance, you have to get their attention.

So, how will you shock your clients today?

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Fake lawyers stealing your name and reputation

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In the “oh my, that’s not good” department comes this report about fake lawyers who put up websites pretending to be real lawyers. They copy the real lawyers’ names, photos, bios, and other information, but change the contact information.

Presumably, the goal is to bring in clients and steal their money, or set up fraudulent cases and rip off insurance companies with “you” as the attorney.

Don’t laugh. It happened to me.

This was many years ago, in the dark days before the Internet. I got a call from a fraud investigator who wanted to talk to me about one of my cases. I didn’t recognize the name of the client, however, and had never had an office at the address on the letter of representation.

How long had this been going on? How many other clients had this impostor represented in my name?

The fake lawyer was quickly caught and shut down and that was the end of the situation, but it was still very unsettling.

What I could to prevent this from happening again, I asked myself. I couldn’t come up with anything. But (as far as I know) it never happened again.

Today, where you can set up a website in ten minutes and get it indexed in search engines within hours, what’s to keep bad guys from impersonating you?

Nothing.

They may not get away with it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.

How can you protect yourself? I don’t have a good answer, other than constant vigilance, i.e., regularly searching your name and your firm’s name to see what’s out there, something you should probably be doing anyway.

And, just in case, you might want to ask your errors and omissions carrier and bar association about  your exposure if it does happen.

If it does happen to you, take a look at how the fake lawyers are marketing you. If they’re good at it, you might want to steal some of their ideas.

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Being a sole practitioner doesn’t mean doing everything yourself

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In response to yesterday’s post about taking the day off, a subscriber asked, “So how does a sole practitioner disconnect on vacation and turn off the phone? I haven’t had a real vacation in 15 years”.

Of course the short answer is you just do it. You have someone else answer the phone, something you should always do, and you have some else talk to clients and prospective clients and take care of the office.

In other words, you have people.

Being a sole practitioner means not having partners. It does not mean doing everything yourself. You have employees or virtual employees or assistants and outside lawyers who handle appearances and other things only lawyers can do.

Yes, this does add a layer of complexity to your practice. You have to supervise your people, or supervise people who supervise your people, and you have to be comfortable with delegating work. But this complexity gives you something even better in return. It gives you freedom. You can take vacations. You can sleep late. You can go to the movies in the middle of the day.

Having people also allows you to earn more money. If you do things right, you earn enough additional income to pay your people and have more net income after you do.

But there are a couple of additional things you need to do to make this work.

First, you need to specialize. You can’t expect to be good at “everything”. Nor can you make a compelling case to prospective clients as to why they should hire you instead of someone who specializes in what they need.

The email I received asking the question at the top of this post ends with a list of the attorney’s practice areas, to wit:

REAL ESTATE

** Residential Closings
** Commercial Closings
** Short Sales
** Loan Modifications
** Reverse Mortgages
** Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure
** 1031 Exchange
** Escrow services
** Property Tax Appeals
** Foreclosure Defense
** Motions to vacate foreclosure sales
** Mortgage Reinstatements
** Landlord Tenant

COMMERCIAL LAW

** Civil Suits
** Business Incorporations
** Debt Settlement

FAMILY LAW

** Divorce
** Child Support
** Modification of Settlement Agreements
** Mediation

CRIMINAL LAW

** Federal/State Defense
** Felony
** Misdemeanor
** Traffic Tickets
** License Suspension

It’s too much. No wonder she hasn’t taken a vacation.

Pick one practice area. Clients prefer to hire lawyers who specializes. They’re also willing to pay them higher fees because lawyers who specialize are perceived as being better, and they usually are. When you do lots of one thing, you tend to get better at it.

You also find it easier to keep up with changes in the law, new forms, and best practices. You spend less time (and money) on “compliance,” which gives you more time (and money) to invest in doing things that lead to more profits and growth.

Yes, you have to give up work that isn’t in your specialty. But you can refer that to other lawyers who send you business that’s outside of their specialty.

In addition, marketing is easier and more effective for lawyers who specialize. Which leads me to the last point. If you want to be able to take vacations, earn more and work less, you have to get good at marketing. Not great, necessarily. Good enough is good enough, as long as you do something on a regular basis.

Specialize, delegate as much as possible, and get good at marketing. Those were the three things that allowed me to go from being overworked and overwhelmed to quadrupling my income and reducing my work week to three days. You can do the same thing.

Learn more: The Attorney Marketing Formula

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What is the secret to your success?

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One day, a young lawyer just starting their career will contact you and ask for your advice. They’ll ask, “What is the your secret to your success?”

How will you respond?

Will you attribute it to hard work? Timing? The right practice area?

Is it good marketing? The right connections? Lots of experience?

A combination of several factors?

Simon Cowell may not be an attorney but I like his answer to that question. He said, “The secret of my success is that I make other people money.”

Quintessential business advice.

Note that he didn’t say things like delivering great TV shows or music or pleasing viewers and record buyers. He spoke about helping his business partners become more successful. Of course one of the ways he does this is by delivering great TV shows and music.

You might think about this as you craft your answer to the question.

You help your business clients make (or save) money. You help your consumer clients solve problems and feel safe. You help your “business partners” (i.e., other professionals, referral sources) look good to their clients and contacts.

Now matter how you answer the question, one thing is certain. The secret to your success involves helping people.

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What do you “know” to be true about legal marketing?

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Smart people once believed that it was impossible for man to fly. Most accepted this as truth and never considered challenging it. The Wright brothers thought differently and changed the world.

Orville Wright said, “If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.”

It got me thinking about what we (lawyers, society) believe is true about the subject of legal marketing.

Not long ago, many lawyers said that other than writing scholarly articles, public speaking, and networking, marketing wasn’t appropriate for an attorney. While this is still true in some places, most of the world has evolved.

Advertising was long thought to be inappropriate, even unethical. Most western jurisdictions now recognize that with certain standards in place, advertising isn’t the stain on the profession it was once thought to be.

Question for you. What do you know to be true about legal marketing? What do you do, or refrain from doing, to market your practice based on your beliefs?

Let’s take the subject of referrals. It is widely understood that you get more referrals if you ask for them. Yet many attorneys don’t ask. They think it makes them look weak or needy, or they don’t know what to say so they don’t even try.

Our beliefs create our reality. If you believe that asking for referrals makes you look weak or is an imposition, you won’t ask. On the other hand, if you believe that referrals are good for all three parties (the referral giver, the client, and you), your entire framework changes.

You’ll ask for referrals because you know that a referral helps the referred client save time and avoid the risk of making a bad decision. You’ll ask for referrals because you’ll know that your clients and contacts want to help the people they know get the benefits you offer and you’ll know they also want to help you.

If your beliefs about referrals currently preclude you from asking for them, changing those beliefs could transform your practice.

It’s time to re-examine all of your beliefs about legal marketing and re-validate them. Are they still true? Has anything changed? Are there any exceptions?

Have you “closed the door” to things you might now consider?

Have you looked at things as black and white and not seen the gray areas within within which you could operate?

Step away from the construct that is your existing practice and look at it from a distance. See your practice and all of your existing beliefs as contained in a giant box.

How can you think outside that box?

Because progress never occurs inside the box.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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What to do when you have nothing new to offer

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What’s new?

Unfortunately, for most attorneys, the answer is “nothing”. They offer the same services today that they offered last year, and the year before that.

The clients change, the cases have different elements, but for most attorneys, same old same old. Even if they offer a menu of services, the menu rarely, if ever, changes.

Worse, many of their clients need them only once in their lifetime.

If attorneys owned any other type of business, they would regularly offer new products or services. Their business would always be growing.

But if a client doesn’t need another divorce, or doesn’t get in another accident, it’s game over.

It would be great to be able to offer the client another service, wouldn’t it? But if you specialize (as you should), you probably don’t have anything else.

Some attorneys offer updated documents, reviews, and modifications, and that’s good. But what about everyone else?

Well, there are a couple of things every attorney can do.

First, you can partner with other attorneys and promote their services to your clients. In return, your partner promotes your services to their clients. You can also do joint ventures with other types of professionals, and businesses, too.

Your clients have problems and needs that go beyond what you can do for them. They need help finding high quality professionals and vendors. They would love to get a good deal, or at least know they aren’t getting a bad one.

You can help them, and in so doing, help yourself.

Think “clients” not “cases” or “engagements”. Continually look for ways to help your clients with their other business or personal needs.

See The Attorney Marketing Formula for different ways you can work with joint venture partners.

Second, no matter what kind of practice you have, you should continually be creating new content.

Every article, blog post, report, seminar, video, or ebook you produce and put out into the market place can bring you new clients.

They can bring traffic to your website via search and social sharing. You can ask your clients and contacts, (and joint venture partners), to share our content with their clients and lists. You can offer them for sale on Kindle and other venues, where millions of prospective clients can find them.

Each piece of content you create educates prospects about what you do and how you can help them. It pre-sells them on the need for an attorney, and why that attorney should be you. And it prompts them to contact you to ask questions, make an appointment, or sign up for your list.

New services, albeit someone else’s, and new content. These are your new products and services. This is what you should continually create and offer.

Then, when someone asks, “What’s new?” you’ll be able to show them.

To learn more about joint ventures, get this

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99% of attorneys give the other 1% a bad name

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Attorneys are often regarded as selfish bastards who eat their young. We rank below used car sales people and politicians on the trust and likability meter. So I read with interest a story about an attorney who drove a stake through the heart of this stereotype.

It happened in an Oregon courtroom where Castor Conley, a 27-year-old married father of a 17-month-old girl, was charged with paying $150 to $200 for a stolen Nissan, which he sold for $275 to another buyer, who then sold it for parts. Conley pleaded guilty to a felony charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, but the deputy district attorney agreed to classify it as a misdemeanor if he paid $983 in restitution to the owner of the truck.

Conley couldn’t come up with the money, however.

Attorney Colin M. Murphy was in the courtroom on another matter and overheard the conversation. He didn’t know the defendant but realized that a felony conviction would affect his job and housing prospects and he volunteered to pay the money.

‘All of us sometime in our lives have done something we would rather not have done,’ he told The Oregonian. ‘And the time will come when perhaps we are going to be held accountable. And I think at that point we would like to have somebody show us mercy.”

The judge told Conley he should eventually pay back Murphy, but Murphy said he was happy to give the man a chance. “If I get paid back, great,” Murphy said. “If I don’t, no problem. I’m not going to hold the kid to it.”

I know it’s the Christmas season, but Murphy needs to stop this nonsense. He’s making the rest of us look bad.

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